All too soon, we were back at the hotel in Dublin where it all began—our 10 tour days behind us, and all that was left was to say our good-byes. Before dinner, our driver/guide Joe led us in a rousing rendition of “Sweet Molly Malone,” and I was grateful I’d taught that song to my fourth graders back in the 1990s, so I knew the words!
An “optional” purchase was the YMT group photo, and now that I look at it, I see I’m “missing” a few names! How quickly we forget! But there’s one thing I won’t ever forget, and that’s the beauty of the scenery and the friendliness of the Irish.
Erin go bragh!
Pretty much all of us know the story of the Titanic—the unsinkable ship which sank in 1912—but to stand in the shipyard where it was actually built and launched was a pretty awesome experience. Even more incredible was the mammoth building in which the story is told, step by step.
The exterior is designed for the corners to look like the prows of four ships, all of Titanic life-size dimensions. Then, as you follow the story, each level inside reveals more about the craftsmanship, the interior decorating, the goods and commodities on board, the backgrounds of the passengers, the lifeboats, and so forth and so on.
There’s even a “ride” inside… A bucket-type cart that carries 4-6 passengers, suspended from the ceiling, from which you are transported back to the building of the ship. You can feel the heat of the furnaces, hear the pounding of the rivets and the voices of the workers. It’s pretty darn amazing.
Near the end, you can use the computerized manifest to see if any of your relatives were aboard. Eighty-one percent of the men died, most of them from the lower classes of farm laborers and unskilled workers. It was a humbling experience.
And then you have the option of sitting down in an amphitheater and watching the “discovery and recovery” video. As I’d seen it on TV, I opted to head for one of several cafés in the lower level and grab some lunch before we headed south, to finish our tour back where we started, in Dublin.
A lot was crammed into our last full morning, beginning with a city tour of Belfast. We had a “step-on guide” for this one, and she gave us the run-down of the buildings we passed, sprinkled in with a tidbits of Belfast history and photo-ops. By now, 10 days into the trip, many did not get off the motor coach at these photo stops, and those that did took a quick picture and climbed back aboard without prompting!
Belfast is a diverse “college town,” filled with students from around the world, and it’s rumored that a cure for MS is in the offing at one such medical university. It’s also known as one of the friendliest, and safest capital cities in all Europe.
I saw evidence of that friendliness the night before. Wandering the streets between our return from the Giant’s Causeway, and dinner “on our own,” I was using a hotel area map to navigate a few blocks in each direction. I marked it with a pen, a lot like leaving breadcrumbs, so I could find my way back. But at almost every street crossing, someone would inevitably ask if I needed any help finding my way. (It helped a great deal that English is spoken here!)
Near the center of the city (I think), there is an enormous wall, covered with graffiti. President Clinton’s words for peace, along with Nelson Mandela’s, are written in metal, while most others are written with felt pen. We were encouraged to add our names to the wall. A call for world peace; imagine that!
Their actual capital building looks rather familiar, patterned after our own. The grounds leading up to it, however, are laid out so that if viewed from the air, roughly approximate the lines on the British flag. Or so we were told!
Bright and early, we set off for the tippy-top north coast of Ireland, to a geologic anomaly known as the Giant’s Causeway. We passed through many small towns, none of which looked any different than those in the southern portion. The Gaelic language isn’t used on signs, as it was in the south, but its absence wasn’t apparent until our guide pointed that out.
The roads are as narrow and twisting as everywhere else, and I was grateful for the skill of our driver. Mile after mile, we passed through sleepy little fishing villages as we wound our way north.
According to legend, a giant in Ireland and a giant in Scotland were going to do battle, and a large causeway (in this case, a basalt bridge) was built so they could meet. But after the giants had spied on each other, and the Scottish one, tricked into thinking the Irish Giant was much bigger and likely to defeat him, destroyed the causeway, leaving basalt columns, like stepping stones, on each shore.
Geologically speaking, around 50 to 60 million years ago, the area was subject to intense volcanic activity, when highly fluid molten basalt intruded through chalk beds to form an extensive lava plateau. As the lava cooled, contraction occurred. Horizontal contraction fractured in a similar way to drying mud, with the cracks propagating down as the mass cooled, leaving pillar-like structures, which are also fractured horizontally into “biscuits.”
In many cases the horizontal fracture has resulted in a bottom face that is convex while the upper face of the lower segment is concave, producing what are called “ball and socket” joints. The size of the columns is primarily determined by the speed at which lava from a volcanic eruption cools. The extensive fracture network produced the distinctive columns seen today, many of which with names like “organ” and “harp” and “camel’s hump.”
I may have gotten the cart a bit in front of the horse in the last post—the one I wrote about Belleek Pottery. And that’s because I hadn’t yet introduced you to the fact we had officially left the Republic of Ireland for the country of Northern Ireland.
You’d hardly realized we’d cross the border if it weren’t pointed out. Crossing the bridge over the Lough Erne and immediately entering the parking lot of the Belleek factory, there are no guards, no checking of passports, no “pomp and circumstance” at all—and that’s a good thing.
I was raised during the time of violence in Northern Ireland, and hunger strikes resulting in death, and film of bombings on the evening news a common occurrence. I certainly never thought I’d live to see the day that the two countries sharing the island of Ireland would live in peace and harmony. Just like I never thought I’d be there, seeing if for myself!
Growing up, I erroneously thought the north was entirely Protestant, and the south was Catholic, and yet it’s about half and half in the north.
Truth be told, the Irish of the northern portion would love to reunite the country—but money talks, and they receive millions each year from the UK for economic development, and free prescriptions, so why change now?
And speaking of money. In Northern Ireland, the currency is the British Sterling, whereas in the Republic, we used Euros. It makes figuring out the actual cost of our purchases (from food to refrigerator magnets) a little more complicated, but the prices always translated to being right in line with what we’d been paying in the south.
We arrived in Belfast just in time to check in and head for dinner. The next morning, we’d be off for a full day to the top coast of Ireland, to the Giant’s Causeway, and exploring this capital city would have to wait till our second morning there.